"Right now the festival is in… what? Four weeks?" asks Jennifer Cox, promotions director for the second annual PDX POP NOW! festival.
"No, two," snaps Cori Taratoot, co-founder of last year's festival, and one of this year's organizers. "It's in two weeks."
"Two?" asks Cox in relative disbelief. "Yeah, I'm in total denial, too," replies Taratoot, only half joking.
Confidence or no, the voluntary coordinators of PDX POP NOW!'s sophomore voyage seem disgustingly well-organized for a group possessing such seemingly starry-eyed intentions. From humble rumblings on a listserv in late 2003 to a free, Portland focused, multiple-staged, consensus-based three-day music festival, PDX POP NOW!'s preternatural success seemed almost destined last year--as if its fruits had always existed in Stumptown's bows, just waiting for someone to pluck them. Not that it wasn't a shitload of work, of course.
"None of us knew what we were doing," admits Taratoot, "None of us had ever organized anything, or run a non-profit. We just knew we wanted to energize the local audience, to encourage people to see music locally, and inform people about bands they otherwise wouldn't know about. But I don't think we had any idea what we were getting into last year."
Beginning as a conversation on the infamous PDX POP list (an online discussion group better known for tireless grumblings than groundswells of proactivity), last year's PDX POP festival was largely shouldered by about 14 organizers--a core group of volunteers that, over the course of several months, not only curated, staffed (with a number of additional volunteers day-of), and procured sponsorship for the three-day, 44-band showcase, but also produced and locally distributed a two-disc supplementary compilation featuring some of Portland's most notable.
All told, the festival itself was a resounding success--a surprisingly hitchless celebration of Portland's exhaustingly expansive popular music community that, in spite of the predictable dissent that invariably comes along with such well-intentioned organizations, is largely pretty difficult to fault. And if you don't like it, you can always start your own three-day, free, all-ages music festival, right?
This year, with their number of principal volunteers nearly doubled, the folks at PDX POP have things a little easier--which is to say they're staying virtually sane this time around.
"A couple of us are on the verge of losing our jobs," admits Taratoot, "but things are a little different this year--we brought in a whole bunch of volunteers and they've been with us throughout, so we're starting off with a solid, dependable core of about 25 people--but it's still very difficult to figure out how to get this many people on the same page to make something so big work."
For starters, this year's festival organizers have divided responsibilities into a series of subcommittees, eliminating the often-crippling general consensus model of last year's festival. This year's PDX POP also relied heavily on the group's online ballot system--a daunting list of over 400 local bands voted on by an equally intimidating 6,490 people--to measure the pulse of public interest as they tackled the festival's booking.
"There's clearly a lot better name recognition amongst the public this year," suggests Nicole Warren, a member of the festival's booking committee. "It was a lot easier to approach some of the bigger bands about contributing tracks to this year's comp--the same with booking."
"This year, with the bands at least, it was really easy," Taratoot continues. "There were no bands that we contacted--I don't think--that said 'I don't have anything for you.' We would have never guessed last year we could get Sleater-Kinney or the Gossip or the Thermals--or any of the people who gave us exclusive tracks. We're trying to dream as big as we can, and we're not really getting any resistance."
Not much, anyway. But questions about vote handling have caused some controversy with at least one of last year's volunteers, who suggested to the Mercury that a number of top vote-getters were curiously left out the running for this year's festival.
"That's just not true. Everybody was considered," explains Warren. "There were a few instances that we came across that seemed to us like blatant ballot stuffing--I'm not going to name names, but…"
"She's talking about a particular situation where one person voted multiple times, and we could tell," says Taratoot. "The vote is meant to help us gauge what Portland wants, and if one person or a group of people vote multiple times, we're not getting an accurate representation. The goal of the vote is to get the public participating, and if you know that the vote is or could be corrupt, then you have to actively curate."
With a list of confirmed performers some 47 names long (the first two nights featuring secret surprise headliners), PDX POP NOW! 2005 hints at a slightly more diverse aesthetic than last year's festival (note hiphop artists like Ms. Su'ad, Quivah, and Manic D & Fogatron peppered amongst the abundant indierock, as well a few more out--artists like Jackie-O Motherfucker)--but for the most part, the festival stays the course of representing what it does best: namely, PDX POP. But come on--it's a completely free festival featuring nearly 50 performers and open to all ages--I mean, what more do you want?